It has been an eventful six months in Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans are facing the reality that their guaranteed lifetime employment is likely coming to an end if the planned economic reforms move forward. Tens of political prisoners, including the majority of the remaining “75” prisoners of conscience from the Black Spring, have been released – though almost all of them into exile. Yet, even with these major developments, Cuba must be seen for what it is – an authoritarian state desperately looking to jumpstart its failing economy.
In this issue, we have three essays looking at the challenges that the Castro regime and its Soviet style institutions are going to face before its economy can blossom. Jose Azel examines the ways in which Cubans gerontocracy has led it to a dead end by continuing to embrace a Stalinist political order. Oscar Espinosa Chepe take a look at the risks and opportunities that this massive overhaul of the Cuban economy represents, especially since the Cuban government has made promises – such as full employment – that it knows it can no longer keep and has demonized anything entrepreneurial for decades. Lastly, Carlos Alberto Montaner reminds us all that the motivations behind all of this is essentially more political than economic, since it is more designed to help prevent the collapse of the communist system rather than transition towards democracy.
The other major development has been the largest release of prisoners in decades, but like the raft of economic reforms this is hardly the first time that the Castro regime done this. The regime freed almost 4,000 political prisoners in 1978, an unknown number during the Mariel boat lift in 1980 and over 300 at the request of Pope John Paul II in 1998. In each case, the regime’s decisions were more driven by strategic reasons than pangs of conscience. The current releases, which were brokered by the Catholic Church, have more to do with the international condemnation that followed the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010 and the current need for direct foreign investment. However, it is also a result of Cuban dissidents keeping the regime’s feet to the fire by continuing to push for the immediate release of all political prisoners, democratic reforms and respect for basic human rights. One in particular, Guillermo Fariñas, who underwent a 134 day hunger strike that nearly killed him, was recognized by the European Parliament by being honored with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in October. We are happy to publish an interview that with Fariñas gave days after he won this award with Reporters Without Borders.
In addition to these two major story lines, the latest issue looks at the current state of religious freedom on the island as reported by Christian Solidarity Worldwide. A pair of travel logs from recent travelers that went to Cuba to get an idea of how things really are on the ground. And People in Need’s latest semi-annual human rights report. Each article highlights ways in which Cuba still has a long way to go to improve its human rights record and to be genuinely considered to be on a new path.
On a personal note, I want to thank all of the people that I have worked with over the last three years as the editor of the Cuba Europe Dialogues, since this will be the last issue for me. I hope that the readers have learned as much as I have from the dissidents, independent journalists and analysts that have appeared in these pages. The experience has been a pleasure and I look forward to reading future issues that will continue to cover Cuba’s movement towards a freer and more democratic future.